Sip and see at Lolo Creek Distillery
If an out-of-state guest arrives and proclaims, “I want a real Montana steak,” you might head for Lolo Creek Steak House so they can get a bite of Montana. And that would be good. Another good comes in what you can now treat them and yourself to: a sip of our surroundings. Lolo Creek Distillery, just up the hill from the steakhouse, completes this family-owned complex nestled at the foot of Lolo Peak.
When their distillery opened earlier this year, Matt and Kasie Grunow became the latest in three generations of Lolo business owners. Matt’s grandfather started with the Road Runner Bar, and his parents Mike and Judy opened a grocery store, laundromat, liquor store, and the Lolo Creek Steak House. Their entrepreneurship has contributed to the economic foundation of this small community just south of Missoula, but that head for business was infused into the Grunow genes via Matt’s grandfather.
“My grandpa made moonshine,” said Matt, with a chuckle. “He stored it under the floor boards and siphoned up each pour.” That spirit for spirits continued at the steakhouse. As the restaurant grew, however, the bar inside became too small to serve all of its thirsty customers. Matt knew they needed to expand but wasn’t sure how that would look.
“One day, we were up on this hill, cutting wood for the fire, and I thought, ‘We should do something with this view,'” he said.
You can’t eat the view, nor can you drink it. Many a Montanan has heard or relayed this old adage. Even still, it didn’t deter Matt and Kasie from their vision.
“We have been in the liquor industry for over 30 years. This just felt like a good next step,” said Matt. Lolo Creek Steak House bartender Ryan Arthur stepped up as distiller, and friends in Fort Benton agreed to provide top-quality grain from Montana’s Golden Triangle, an area in our treasured state known for having ideal wheat-growing conditions.
Matt beamed at being able to buy that grain, but Kasie gushed over how they style it with local ingredients.
“Everything is made in-house from scratch,” Kasie said. “We get honey from [a commercial honey farmer] Bert and the Bees, up Highway 12, and I pull the mint from my garden.”
Ryan, who blends and boils those ingredients into drink, understands why distilling has made a commercial comeback: “It’s grain to bottle, and that’s the craft part that Montanans want.”
Their robust menu expresses that craft. You’ll find classics like a Bloody Mary, seasonal features, and specialty cocktails named after Lolo landmarks. Sample the Road Runner for a bright gin, orange, and mint mix. Or, try the Fort Fizz, a mule flavored with berry, lime, and mint.
“Our most popular drink is the Rip ‘n’ Lips, which people who fish around here know what that means,” Matt said.
Anyone who has fished Lolo Creek along Highway 12 may also recognize the massive horns mounted above the tasting room’s mantle.
“That’s Stanley,” Kasie said, admiring the chaffed horns—the product of barbed wire etching its way through their surface. “He was one of the long-horn bulls from the Holt ranch next door.” That neighborly feel comes through in the tasting room’s cozy, airy vibe.
However, what also makes this distillery standout is how the Grunow family has teamed up to provide the ultimate Montana dining experience.
“We’ll pick you up from the steakhouse parking lot and shuttle you to the distillery,” explained Kasie. “You can enjoy a drink up here while you wait for your table. Then, we’ll shuttle you back down for dinner.”
Cheers, and bon appetit!
Be on the Lookout
Look for their first whiskey release in 2019. “It’s gonna scream MONTANA,” Ryan, the distiller. said. Matt laughed, his hands stuffed into his pockets. He glanced up and over his shoulder to Lolo Peak. “Yeah, this view will never change.”
Lolo Creek Distillery
6610 US-12, Lolo
Open every day from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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